Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg met Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert on Sunday evening alongside other EU and Middle Eastern leaders to discuss the crisis in Gaza. Messrs Topolánek and Schwarzenberg represented the EU at a summit in Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh earlier on Sunday, which rallied international support for the fragile truce called by Israel and Hamas, and which stepped up pressure on Israel to withdraw its troops from the Gaza Strip. The summit, organized by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, convened as Palestinian armed groups offered a one-week truce in response to the unilateral ceasefire declared by Israel overnight. The Czech delegation at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit said that it could organize a donor conference on behalf of the EU to raise funds for the desperate humanitarian needs of the 1.5 million population of Gaza.
On Sunday morning, the Czech EU presidency released a statement welcoming news of an Israeli ceasefire and urging Israeli forces to end their blockade of Gaza.
Former president Václav Havel will remain in hospital for at least another week, his doctor Martin Holcát has said. According to his practitioner, Mr Havel’s condition is a little bit better, but the former dissident is still a patient needing intensive care. Václav Havel was hospitalized last Sunday when he complained of breathing difficulties. He underwent minor surgery which was followed by complications. Mr Havel is suffering from respiratory problems caused by congestion of the right lung. Most of his right lung was removed in 1996 when he was diagnosed with cancer.
The Czech Republic began sending natural gas to Slovakia on Sunday morning. A spokesperson for RWE Transgas said that the firm started pumping gas to Slovakia just before 08:30 CET. Slovakia is completely dependent upon Russian gas and has received no supplies for 11 days. It is thought that the Czech Republic’s eastern neighbour will lift limits that it had set on industrial gas consumption on Monday.
In related news, the Czech presidency of the European Union has cautiously welcomed the announcement of a gas deal between Russia and Ukraine, saying the real test will be whether gas reaches consumers. Czech officials released a statement on Sunday saying that they were careful about embracing the announcement as ‘so many promises had not been kept’. Moscow and Kiev unveiled a gas agreement on Sunday that they said would shortly allow a resumption of supplies to Europe.
Czech Trade and Industry Minister Martin Říman has said that in light of the current European gas crisis, the Czech Republic should be moving towards increased reliance upon nuclear power. Speaking on Czech Television on Sunday, Mr Říman said that Czechs should no longer be looking to build new power stations which operated on gas. He also said that widening the possible ways to import foreign gas into the country must now become a priority. The Czech Republic currently imports around 80 percent of its gas from Russia, with the rest coming from Norway. Around a third of Czechs’ electricity currently comes from nuclear power plants, it is thought that the government wants to raise this to around 50 percent by 2030.
Around 200 people gathered in the Bohemian town of Plzeň on Sunday to remember the first transportation of the town’s Jews to the Terezín concentration camp some 67 years ago. Those present heard speeches before marching from the town centre to the Main Synagogue. Two thousand six hundred and five of Plzeň’s Jews were transported to Terezín in the course of World War Two. Only 112 returned. The town’s Jews were deported in three separate transports, the first taking place on January 18, 1942 and then subsequently four and then eight days later.
More than 40 pilots are planning to sue the Czech army for wages they say they have not been paid. Czech Television reported on Saturday that the amount the pilots are seeking runs into the tens of millions of crowns. The plaintiffs say that they were only paid for 12 hours work when on foreign and reconnaissance missions, when they were in fact on 24-hour watch. A spokesperson for the army told Czech Television that the pilots had been paid everything that they were owed. Meanwhile, the Defence Ministry has said that it does not have enough information to comment.
Czech MPs are planning to visit some 30 countries in 2009, at a cost of about 26 million crowns (1.3 million USD), Chairman of the House of Deputies Miloslav Vlček said on Sunday. Amongst the countries to be visited rank Cape Verde, Mongolia, South Africa and Bahrain. A delegation will be sent to Canada to examine the integration of new migrants into society. In 2007, the Chamber of Deputies passed a resolution limiting parliamentary committees’ foreign trips to a maximum of three a year, with the exception of the foreign affairs committee.
Some 26,143 new firms were established in the Czech Republic in 2008, suggests data released by Czech officials on Sunday. This figure is up on the previous year’s tally by more than 3,500. Nearly 80 percent of the new companies founded last year were established in Prague, this was also the case in 2007.
Temperatures are expected to rise a little over the next couple of days, and range between 2-6 degrees Celsius. Expect cloudy skies and some sleet on Monday.